Sen. Wyden Reveals Government Surveillance of Smartphone “Push” Notifications

December 6, 2023

Senator Wyden published a letter today to the Attorney General revealing that the U.S. government and other foreign governments have “secretly compelled” Google and Apple to turn over information obtained from push notifications including both communications metadata and often the contents of communications. Push notifications are alerts from apps that pop up on phones, informing the user of a new message or reminder. Because these notifications are routed through centralized Google and Apple servers, the government can mine them for otherwise difficult to obtain data, like how often a person uses an app, or even what a particular push notification says. Also today, 404 Media today published a story detailing how the U.S. government compels tech companies to turn over push notification data. 

Senator Wyden urged the DOJ to permit Apple and Google to “be transparent about the legal demands they receive, particularly from foreign governments, just as the companies regularly notify users about other types of government demands for data.” The Senator also requested that the DOJ permit companies to reveal at least aggregate statistics on how often governments are accessing push notification data. 

Senator Wyden also recently revealed new details about the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Hemisphere program, now known as Data Analytical Services (DAS), a vast and highly-secretive surveillance authority run by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the DEA. 

Senator Wyden’s letter came out in the midst of a bipartisan push to reform government surveillance in the U.S. EPIC and a bipartisan coalition of privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights groups have launched a campaign to significantly reform Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and related surveillance authorities. Members of this coalition recently urged Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to refrain from including any short-term reauthorization of FISA Section 702 in the continuing resolution or any other “must-pass” legislation.

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